I have a heart monitor stuck onto my chest and an incredibly realistic baby doll in my arms. This is The Body, Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari’s innovative production, featuring live-feed video, haunting sound design, bold visuals and clever technology. It features dolls and humans, their differences and similarities, their functions and their limits. Collaborating with the University of Nottingham’s Mixed Reality Lab and Middlesex University’s Computing, Design and Robotics department, Barrett and Mari explore the reason behind our disgust and fear towards realistic, lifelike, fake bodies.
There are only 16 of us sitting in The Pit, watching the charismatic performers Jess Latowicki and Barrett. Presented in episodes that focus on different parts of the body, the experience is extremely intimate and no matter how disturbing it gets, you just cannot look away. Both Barrett and Latowicki are captivating and are able to communicate so much with very little words. With the numerous dolls and mannequins in this show, their human presence on stage is almost comforting. They are a well balanced duo: Barrett brings a certain adorable silliness, while Latowicki has a magnetic, often eerie calmness about her. They handle both the dolls and the audience members with care and respect, even when it comes to certain interactions with the spectators. We get to attend a birthday party, unwrap presents and explore our own bodies by using a live-feed camera. We are therefore very much active spectators throughout the performance, as our bodies (and heartbeats) are part of the piece.
Myriddin Wannell’s set design is simple yet effective, playing with dimensions and the deepness of The Pit that is suddenly revealed to us by the end of the performance. Lewis Gibson’s eerie sound design brings most of the drama to the production, while Richard Williamson’s lighting could be a bit more brave and inventive. The countless fade-outs quickly become repetitive, and the long black-outs are often more boring than uncomfortable.
The Body is creepy, but also strangely beautiful. It shocks, disgusts and disturbs successfully, and yet there is plenty of room left for humour and play. But there is definitely a hint of drama present: at the end the babies we held in our arms with so much care are thrown unceremoniously into a big cardboard box as we leave The Pit.
Barrett and Mari, who are winners of the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award, bring a production that is certainly closer to live art than theatre, and so if you are looking for narrative, you won’t find much of it here. Also, if you have a fear of dolls or babies, this show is definitely not for you.
The Body is playing at the Barbican until the 29 November. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican website. Photo: Richard Davenport.